Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Tomorrow starts what I consider the most important event for the future wellbeing of the developing world since we opened the Pandora's Box of Iraq. It might not receive as much press coverage as the Joburg Summit or Bush's 'Plan for Africa' but in the medium and long-term it will make far more of a difference.

It is the 5th Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Cancun, Mexico.

The BBC has a good overview article here:

The Ministerials are held every 2 years. The first three were stitch-up jobs in which the rich countries tore open the fragile economies of poorer countries but kept a huge wall of protectionism around their own industrial might. This culminated, at Seattle in 1999, put the WTO into the headlines because for the first time developing countries managed to put their foot down on some issues and the negotiations simply collapsed.

At the fourth Ministerial (held in the repressive state of Qatar to avoid a repeat of all the protests that surrounded Seattle) a kind of bargain was struck. After a lot of arm-twisting by rich countries, developing countries accepted a set changes in seven areas to weaken their control over their own economic policy, in return for changes by the west in three other areas: the most famous of which was access to cheap generic versions of medicines to deal with public health crises such as AIDS and Malaria.

Two years on, progress has been made in all seven of the 'rich country' areas but funly enough almost none in the three 'poor-country' areas. This is almost all because of US and European Union attempts to renege on the deal struck in Qatar even before the ink was dry. Therefore many observers now see the 'Doha Ministerial' as little more than a PR stunt by the rich countries.

So now the day of reckoning has arrived. Cancun is a resort town so despite the steel wall that has been built around the conference area, there will be protests. China is a member of the WTO for the first time and has a lot of expertise in this kind of negotiation. Brazil has a new president who has said that developing countries have to stick together in these talks. So there is some hope that developing countries might actually be able to win some changes in the world trading system which would allow them the space and the chance to develop their own way out of poverty.

Rant over, but if I wasn't here just now I'd be in Cancun...

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?